HIS BEARD STILL had muck mangled within it.
His feet were heavy and his pride dented after battle.
Shelbourne captain Gary Deegan trudged across the heavy Tolka Park pitch and down the tunnel.
Champions Dundalk had just overcome a second-half rally, inspired by the Dubliner’s stunning half volley, to secure a 2-1 victory in Drumcondra.
But Deegan’s work was not done.
An elderly Shelbourne volunteer stood at the foot of the stairs to the dressing rooms. Clutching numerous blue biros and commiserating with those in red, he ushered the beaten players into one of the side rooms to sign autographs for one of the underage teams.
Some sidestepped him, others went in straight away. Deegan had been withdrawn by manager Ian Morris with 16 minutes remaining so the sweat wasn’t quite fresh.
It had time to linger as he watched the final quarter of an hour from the bench so, frankly, Deegan stank.
He didn’t want to make the young kids endure this. The defeat, even a tight one to the champions, was still raw. Deegan promised the Shels volunteer he would return after a shower.
He took a biro and, not long afterwards, was true to his word; signing autographs and posing for photographs.
“We’ve got a good dressing room, there are no egos flying around,” Deegan told The42. “No [bad] eggs in the dressing room. We wouldn’t allow that to creep into the changing room. We’ve got young, honest, hardworking lads with a blend of experienced pros as well. It’s our job to bring the young pups on a little.
The 32-year-old has his own good reasons for feeling like this is a fresh start.
He left Bohemians for Coventry City in 2009 and, after more than a decade in Britain with Hibernian, Northampton Town, Southend United, Shrewsbury Town and Cambridge United, took the decision to move back to Dublin with his young family.
As well as the usual hazards of the midfield trade you might expect, broken bones and limbs, Deegan has also had to endure off-field obstacles.
He was suspended by Coventry City for a tweet in which he joked with a team-mate about supporting the IRA. While a Hibs player, he was attacked a night out and suffered a fractured jaw, and he admitted his “life could have been taken away” after contracting sepsis last year.
“Look, I love this city,” Deegan insists. “It’s nice to reconnect after so long. There is nothing like home. I’m a father now to two young girls, they were both born away. Now we’re back and back as a family. We get our heads down now and be part of the Shelbourne family.”